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THE PLAN STAN: Alpine Lakes Traverse
I used to do a lot of hiking as a kid. For a long time I stepped away from it. A hike was only part of a climb or ski, kayak or bike, never just a hike. These other sports can be fun escapes, but when I look back to my earliest memories of the mountains, I look fondly on those summer hikes. There would be fishing, sleeping in, long days strolling through forest and meadow, blueberries, and wildlife. There was frankly something that I don’t have a lot of and that is simply, well, time! When I have other goals in mind, I am focused on those alone. The world around me is just the ‘between’. I don’t have a lot of time to dally.
This winter, after knee troubles, I was forced to sit back and rest, something that I have never done. Climbing and skiing were put on the backburner. By the time I was better, the skiing wasn’t great and the climbing would be a lot of strain. Nonetheless, I was enthused to get back into the hills and make the best of what was left and a hike seemed like a wonderful way to stretch the legs.
For a few years now, my twin brother Josh and I had wanted to traverse the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This region holds a special place in my heart. I spent a lot of time traveling its trails and ridgelines as a kid. Fishing and swimming were always looked forward too, no matter the cold weather or cold water that may have made either less enjoyable. The late summer snowstorm wasn’t an unheard of event.
My first traverse of the area was with my parents and brothers. We spent 9 days going from Snoqualmie to Stevens, something that doesn’t take nearly that amount of time, but did for us because we explored surrounding mountains and lakes. Whatever fit our fancy! That’s what is great about hiking. Like I said before and I’ll say again, “There is time.”
In the same vein of that first traverse, I planned a 9 day hike with my brother. Included in the trip would my other brother Jessy and Josh’s girlfriend, Christy. Our path would be an interesting patchwork of trails and short cross country jaunts, or at least that’s what it appeared like from maps and dredged up memory.
For a point of reference, I’ll provide this short description of our route. In the broadest sense we wanted to go in the Waptus trailhead and out the Icicle Creek Trailhead. We decided on two legs in this journey so we could carry less food. Day 1-4 would take us from Waptus Lake, over Dutch-Miller and La Bohn Gaps to Necklace Valley. Day 5 would be split with the first half spent hiking out Necklace Valley to pick up food, while the remainder of that day would be spent going as far down Tonga ridge toward Deception creek as we could manage before dark. Day 6-7 would bring us to Robin Lakes and vicinity. While day 8-9 would transport us around Granite Mountain and down past Kalonqua Lakes to the end of our journey at Icicle Creek.
DAY ONE: Waptus Lake
The night before we arrived late and tired, and spent our remaining hours sleeping on the shore of the Copper River, whose silent rumblings swooned us to sleep. There was no interest in getting up early, no matter our desire to make Ivanhoe Lake, many miles up the way, with the heaviest our packs would be. Instead, sleeping provided dreams of a break I had yearned for, and not received, mainly out of my own stubbornness to escape, for many years. A full week off hadn’t happened in 5 years. I was always trying to pick weather windows, and choose the best days to climb and ski. Usually they would come and go, and I’d find my chance to take a break gone with it. Summer has more room for planning, more chances that weather will be kind and generous enough to make a long trip into the mountains a worthy and fun endeavor rather than a soaking wet swimming pool of rain and clouds, snow and wind.
It occurred to me that morning that there are many types of fun. Some take effort, and some take a lot more effort. To me, hiking takes a lot less than most of my other activities. I like that. So instead of sleeping in too much, I herded the troops and headed back to our cars, where piles of gear needed to be sorted and packed.
From the back of the car more gear and knick-knacks came out than a dozen California transplants would purchase at a local REI before a hike to Paradise. I felt ashamed, but not so much. This gear was for the fun and enjoyment of all of us who deserved a break, plus this gear couldn’t possibly add up to the absurd weight that a standard ski mountaineering venture could tip the scales in at.
In the end, all of our packs weighed 50-60lbs which was fine by us. We could surely cut it in half, but why, we had 9 days, and after some thought, we decided on a short hike to Waptus Lake, some 11 miles in. Why not? We were sure it would make for great swimming. Better to swim than to hike until it is too late to.
The hike began in good spirits. Jessy and I leapt ahead and wouldn’t stop until we reached Waptus Creek. This was a familiar place for me, who had with Josh and another friend, carried our whitewater boats up the trail to put in at Waptus, whose nice pools and scenic canopy of trees make for a cornucopia of wonders. The ride is a pleasant experience on mostly class III or easier water. At least easy for us. The thousands of dead and dying moths would definitely disagree. They filled every eddy and pool.
My brother decided on a break there, while I broke off and ventured up for reminders. Those are important to me, reminders of past journeys. That is why I keep this website, and spend so much time writing. I want to remember these trips when I get old and grey. I want to smile and laugh about my youth and beyond. That is why I will remind Jessy to watch climbing over logs and laugh when I tell him how he followed me up the creek and yelled, “Hi,” just as the log he was on begins to rotate and bees leap out to hover and gather below. They rise up and sting him. Why he is reminded throughout the trip that he may not be as light-footed and quick as he may think. He has the bruises and scars from his fall off the log onto bedrock to remind him that it’s best to tread lightly when following his older brother. Although, a day or two ahead, I would have scars of my own. So we are both maybe not as nimble as we may think.
The next several miles went without incidence, and the creek would creep into sight a few more times before we would finally cross and stand on the other side. About then we come to Waptus Lake. There are camps at the very end, middle and a few other gems hidden throughout. You’ll have to work like us to find those.
The next several hours are embarrassing. We laze about like Sloths, like your worthless dog or shrew cat. Our existence was defined by repetitive dips, cooking bacon and sausage, and sun bathing on shore. It was corruptible! It was literally an about face to our 9-5, Monday through Friday, jobs. What would our bosses think? Let me again remind you of our situation: nice beach, swimming, and food. I KNOW what they’d think, “You f#$%^#”s, get back to work.” That’s what they’d think.
This did become too much after a time. Jessy and I eventually set up camp, and decided to yard up the food, because it’s always a good idea to let mice and other varmints get as little food as possible. No reason to feed ‘em. Although, on a trip a few days after this one on the Ptarmigan Traverse, I would learn that they aren’t necessarily junk food junkies. They like fingers too, even when they are still attached to their warm blooded owner. And YES, there are bears too, but my experience has always been like this. You see, they run, and then they are gone. In Alaska and Canada they are a bit scarier. There it’s a good idea to yard the food up high. Even so, according to the Fish and Wildlife website (http://www.wdfw.wa.gov) there are 25,000 Black Bears in Washington. It notes that while information is sketchy they do know of four attacks, one of which ended in death.
We weren’t thinking of that though, we were just doing what we have always done. It didn’t go as planned, and because the plan wasn’t going as planned, comedy was spelled in the forthcoming events LEADing to disaster. Jessy and I pulled and tugged, but we had so much food we were afraid we wouldn’t get it high enough. Except, by will of god, we thought we had. Then Christy, that vicious meat eater, reaches up and swats our food like a bear. Laughs and giggles instead of growls and grumbles made for a poor imitation, but no matter her bad acting, there was more comedy ahead.
After Christy had left, Jessy and I continued in our efforts to hang the food. When again, not long after, we had the food nearly tied down, project completed. Smug satisfaction quickly faded. In a flash, the rope shuddered. With a twang the threads burst apart and all the food came crashing down. I can still hear Josh and Christy’s laughs from behind the bushes, where the sunny shore was. Neither Jessy or I could hold our laughs back either.
Finally, we gave up, piled the food next to Christy and Josh, and went to bed. In the morning, we weren’t sure what exactly the plan was for the next day. All we knew was that another beach and more swimming were prerequisites.
DAY TWO: Lake Ivanhoe, Williams Lake, Chain Lakes
The climb from Waptus Lake to Ivanhoe continues further up the valley where at one point, you look down and see Waptus. Like a football stadium with a million sports fans, the lake like the field and the fans, trees, you wonder at the wildness of it all. No cars, no buildings or any sort, and no mark of any kind beyond the trail, of human incursion into these lands. It was definitely a magical event, trees rustled with approval.
Soon you come to Lake Ivanhoe, which is cradled between two mountains. To the North is Bear’s Breast and to the South, Big Chief. Above the lake is Dutch-Miller Gap, a splendid meadow, full of ponds, mostly dried, heather, and grasslands.
At the lake we traversed the South side, and climbed down to the edge where we would be able to swim. If you are noticing a trend, swimming is a large part of our thrill, and thrill we would have, especially if we thought Waptus was cold. Nonetheless, what brought us to the other side was a falls, and it was our goal to jump off of it. But first, well, we had to get to it. Jessy found the best way (remember, don’t ever follow me), while the rest of us took the scenic route. We would do the same on the way back and it would provide plenty of comedy for Jessy, but we’re not there yet. Anyhow, on a scale of 10, this ended up being way up there for us. The weather was perfect, the day so hot that the sub-freezing Atlantic waters of Ivanhoe weren’t that bad once every nerve and fiber of your body was numbed. It took some doing for each of us, but we all jumped in, climbed the falls and jumped off. It was very satisfying to take a few hours, and appreciate this joyous place.
As for joys, how about the comedy I alluded to earlier? We had climbed down a ravine, which led to a steep gully. This gully wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the lunch we had brought, but neglected to eat, in our hands. No matter our full loads, with Christy in the lead, she was only a step away from freedom, and easy going on the trail. But, by god, it wasn’t to be. She was rejected. One misstep threw her off balance forcing her to reach out for a branch, whereupon everything proceeded to tumble out of her hands, much like a ship’s cabin boy, arms full of rolled up maps, losing his footing, and reaching for the railing. Maps catch the wind. Food found the gully and its way down to Josh and I, who attempted to salvage it, but ALAS in the course of trying to capture canned salmon, crackers, and cheese we drop water bottles, shoes and clothes. All the while the mutinous Jessy can be heard hooting, “So, how’s it going over there, eh?”
Back at our packs we climbed another few hundred feet up before crossing Dutch-Miller Gap. There are switchbacks down the other side. These drop nearly a 1000-ft before you reach a creek and the intersection of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail. This trail is a nice entrance to the area, but I’ve heard tell that the road may be closed. Not all of it, but enough to make for a longer hike, possibly taking this area away from the weekend warrior. Who knows? It is something to consider if you plan on going here in the future.
Williams Lake is now a short climb away. Through shrub trees you come to a shallow, stone studded, grassy shore. There are a few camps here, but nothing special, although there appeared to be more elsewhere. We didn’t see anyone, which was nice, and took a break to explore the area.
Soon it was time to go, and we continued along the shore. Ahead are passed meadow-encompassed streams carved into mud, ideal frog estuaries. Amphibious antics mad for photos and entertainment. Up mine tailing, we take our packs off once more to explore a mine tunnel. It was full of litter, and not just old rusty nails, but more recent plastic pipes and buckets.
A hiker’s path climbs steeply beyond here through more shrub trees. For the most part it heads straight up before traversing back to a boulder field on the left. The boulder field leads to Chain Lakes, a collection of tarns carved into granite. By the time we negotiated all of this, the sun was waning, and we were inclined to stop at Chain Lakes and enjoy what daylight there was left.
Once situated, we sorted through food and decided on dinner. Afterwards, Jessy and I explored the area, and found an old shelter, roofless, but still with three walls standing. Later we sat atop a hill where a USGS marker was. From it we watched the glow on the horizon vanish, and the stars appear.
I awoke early, and took up my camera, a digital SLR. Having never shot digital, I was excited to not be confined to the limitations of film speed. I had worked hard to afford a Nikon D200. A nice set of flowers provided a healthy victim to practice with. Even though the perfect morning light was gone, I expected to work with what I had. Some pictures have an appeal beyond the perfections that many photographers dwell on. There’s something in the composition and place, and that’s what I like to see. I'm sure many would agree, and sure I like perfect photos too.
Jessy soon joined me and we surveyed the mines and lakes. The lakes were especially nice, even with the visual destruction that the miners levied throughout. Those visualations help remind me of the importance of protection, more so than if this place had never seen a pick and shovel.
After photos, we readied our gear. Our day was to be a short one. I had thought of climbing Mount Hinman, but really decided that I would save it for another time (we would come back later that summer and climb it). Instead we found the climber’s path to La Bon Gap and set our packs down at the lowest point. On the map, La Bon Lakes were just above, and so was better water than Chain Lakes had. We also wanted to scout the best way down from the pass into Necklace Valley. In hindsight we should’ve done more scouting, but the lakes were pleasant. We would all break up and explore on our own. I found curious Ptarmigan, which provided me with a photo or two.
When we met up again at the smallest of the lakes, we filtered water. There was floating ice near one side and half the shore was snow covered. Other than water, there was also entertainment. Egged on by Jessy, Josh and Christy were convinced that jumping onto an iceberg was a fantastic idea. Why wouldn't it be? Jessy and I ready video and film just in time for the show, and what a show it was. They jump on just as planned. Christy first and then Josh. Perfect, if they had jumped right back off, but their celebration lasted too long and the berg floated away from shore. Jessy and I grinned as we watched them come to the realization that there was no way off, no other way back to shore other than by swimming. Their whining was paramount to the gut busting hilarity of the situation. Imagine them perched with their buttes on the ice and feet in the air, “It’s too cold, man.” This followed by their touching the water and shrilling “Oh my god it’s COLD!!!” Let alone the pleasure of watching them actually swim for it.
Time did come to go, and we returned to our packs and climbed down snowy slopes. This may have been the wrong way, as we went over the lowest pass as far climber’s left as you could get. I’m pretty sure now the route continues by La Bon Lakes. Nonetheless, steep snow would lead us to a rocky rib, which we followed down as far as we could. The terrain ahead didn’t look very safe with big packs, so the others backtracked and found a safer gully, while I continued. At first it was just to scout to see if the way was safe for the others. When I realized that it really wasn’t, I didn’t want to return the way I had come. What I had gotten myself into was a classic trap. As a climber I look at certain things as easy, but without the tools of a climber they really aren’t. I’ve fallen into this trap, especially in summer, a few times. This time my trap was down climbing steep hard snow in tennis shoes. That snow led to rocks which would not offer a pleasant cushion. Normally, I would just downplay this, but it may teach someone a lesson. It did me.
Afterwards, I traversed around and climbed up a gully that the others were in, and carried Christy’s pack down. Once we returned to my pack, we filled up on water before foot skiing the last few hundred feet. Again, Jessy and I were bemazed to be entertained once again. First Christy, who I warn before I leave to watch thin snow, neglects to heed my advice. Her first step gives way and she falls backwards. All we can see is her feet and all we can here are her laughs. Next comes Josh who, full water bag strapped to his pack, notices it slip out. He watches it skip down the snow until it smashes into rocks and explodes.
Some more foot skiing and we are finally in Necklace Valley.
There are so many lakes squeezed into such a tiny area, I can see why it was called Necklace Valley. Cloudy, Jade, Emerald, Opal, and Ilswoot were the only ones we explored, although it would be very easy to visit more. With over 700 lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you are always sure to be just a hop-skip away from your very own pearl (alluding to the name Necklace Valley). Right then, we were more interested in finding a camp. Along our path we hadn’t seen a lot of people, but the valley was crowded, and we wanted escape. We found that escape at Jade, where a camp was found right next to the trail. This wasn’t ideal, thus the sarcasim, but for all the detours of the day, our time to run around and find a better place was fading too fast. We gave up, and left further searching for the next day. We figured we’d find a better place then. Now we needed rest. No more swimming today.
Now how about those scars of mine I mentioned earlier in the story. These would come while cooking a feast of kings for everyone. We had hauled over a nice rock and placed it right outside the door. I had a view of the lake, and the sunlight was beginning to fade. I was in a hurry to rest. My body was inside the tent, parallel to the door with the stove just outside. Trying to juggle the work while the others were walking, I reached for a box of noodles around my pot of water. It was boiling over the top. As I was bringing it back to pour it in, my arm bumped the handle. I’ve gotten lucky with stove incidents in the past. That time, a fuel line burst, and lit a friend on fire. He had 3rd degree burns on his hands. I also had fuel on me, but moved quickly enough. This time, I wasn’t as quick, and the stove was just inches above my leg. The pan landed and the water washed over my thigh. I thought for a second that I’d be fine, even as the skin began to peel away, but then it wasn’t so fun. I was really quiet that night. Any of my friends know that when I’m quiet, that’s not good.
Five months later, scars serve as a reminder to be careful around a stove.
I let the others finish dinner while I wrapped my leg and rested. We had no bandages, or anesthetic left, so I would worry about infection throughout the trip.
DAY FOUR: Ilswoot Lake
We had nothing planned but rest and relaxation for DAY FOUR. The only work of the day was to find a good camp, which appeared at Ilswoot Lake. The water’s of milky opalescence attracted us, along with the boulder jumbled shore at the south end of the lake. It was here where we fished, bringing over pot and pan, salt and pepper, oil and spatula to fry up our catch. We all caught fish, some we threw back, but a few we kept. Jessy gutted and I cooked very carefully.
Otherwise, we swam periodically throughout the day, maybe rolling over to get something else to eat. As for swimming, not all of us are fans of water. Josh definitely isn’t unless it is warm, and usually the last one to go in. Jessy, on the other hand, is the exact opposite and Christy was a junior Olympic diver. She loves water. As for me, well, I’m not a fan either, but I am malleable. Jessy spots these cliffs that he was set on jumping off of, but not alone (thus he twists my arm). They are at the end of the lake. Steep brush and trees lead down to the top while rock drops straight into the water below. Again, the water’s color was amazing. I felt like I was in an island lagoon.
Christy and I eventually hike around the shore. We brush and branch rappel to a safe purchase, led by Jessy who had already jumped and climbed back around. It was thrilling hopping onto a branch suspended above the water and leaping off. The little brother always knows how to push us to do what we otherwise wouldn’t. In the end, we get more fun than we had expected. That's what great about Jessy. With him I never know what I'm ganna get, "...life's a box of chocolates."
After jumping I decided to walk the shore back around while the others swam. They jump off a big boulder to get back in the water. Jessy does fine but Christy doesn’t clear a rock ledge and jams her toe. It didn’t look good and we thought the end of her trip would be the next day - that turned out not to be the case. After a few days her toe would numb, just like mine would and just like Jessy’s did. Only Josh would be left off the injured list, but that would only last until DAY SEVEN.
DAY FIVE: Deception Creek
Drizzle pattered the top of the tent when I woke up. Drips slipped through the cracks and dripped on my forehead. Outside the fog hovered low. None of us were excited about staying long, so instead of making breakfast, we packed up for the slip and slide to the valley bottom. There, under a canopy of trees we did finally cook a late breakfast, and the last of our food. We were going to be early, really early to our meeting Later that day Christy’s parents were dropping off a food cache.
When I think back, it is comical how we must’ve looked when we finally did arrive at the parking lot. Four yahoos, packs and gear to one side and a fire. We had managed to entertain ourselves for awhile. Eventually we ran out of entertaining things to do. We eventually hiked down the road to see if we could get cell phone reception, which we didn't. The second time we hiked even further and Christy was able to reach her parents. They were sorry, they said, but unfortunately they were going to be a few hours late. Christy wasn't happy, and I felt bad for her parents, but five hours in the rain would put anyone in a sore mood.
There was excitement when they arrived with pizza. Not so much when we realized that four packs, and all six of us would have to squeeze into an Isuzu jeep. In high school I remember a contest where different classes competed to put the most people in the smallest car. While we may not have won, second place would've been given for effort.
Earlier in the day, Jessy and I had decided that we would cut a few miles off by skipping most of Tonga Ridge, and accessing the trail further down the other side. Our risk was that the road would end or not exist anymore. Fortunately that risk paid off and with two hours of light left, food and dry clothes packed, we thanked Christy’s parents for the ride, and headed off once more. Thus would begin the second half of our journey.
The Low-lying swamps soon to come were a breeding ground for mosquitoes. They hounded us like we were a fast food joint next to an overweight convention. A measure of how bad it was goes like this: if you have to wipe rather than slap then you know its bad. Again, “If you ain’t wipen’ then it ain’t bad.” There was plenty of wipen' but we were still serving big macs at the drive through.
By dark we found the perfect spot to camp. It was next to a creek. There we built a small rock ring and a fire, made a few seats, filtered water and went about setting up camp for the night. We felt like kings when we dried off and ate. Our fingers were crossed wishing for sunny rays in the morning.
We awoke to thick clouds. No rain, but there was a promise in the air that we were pretty sure Mother Nature wouldn’t renege on.
The meadows going to Deception Pass were much nicer than I had expected. Having had low expectations for this section, I think I may be overrating it. No mater. It is your impression of something that is important. Not someone else’s to sway your convictions. The flowers were in full bloom, the wind calm and day early. I really wanted to take time to picture everything, but I didn’t. In fact I have only a few photos from this section at all. I guess I spent more time enjoying the hike and surrounding scenery.
From the top of Deception Pass, we dropped a bit before climbing up to Tuck and Robin Lakes. The hike is on a nice climber’s path, which leads you up quickly. It’s my kind of trail. The sun decided to play with us. One second sun, the next clouds, followed by rain and then sun again. We have a term for this. It’s the “Ha, ha Sun.” Cause every time it appears it goes, “Ha, ha, just kidding.”
There’s a break in the climb when you reach Tuck Lake. Another mile or so of uphill follows before Robin Lakes appear. There was no more kidding around with the sun. It was gone. Fog hovered over the lakes, and made for a dreary afternoon.
Over the years Robin Lakes has had its fair share of wear and tear. Having been going to the Robin’s since I was 6 years old, I have a fondness for it, and hate to see the damage done. Maybe my story will convince a few people to look at other areas, and not coalesce around the same favorites (as maybe I should). There are many, many other places to go. Sometimes you just need to look outside the box, and try something new. Beauty is about perception. My perception is often skewed when I happen upon a place I’d saw on the map, scouted, and finally laid my eyes on. This is often so much better than the familiar.
There wasn’t a lot to do at Robin since the weather was so bad. At least it didn’t snow. We played cards and later shrugged on our coats and climbed Trico Peak. This consumed much of our afternoon. We picked berries and made pancakes and syrup which didn’t turn out very good. Otherwise, we watched mountain goats climb up granite fingers reaching out into the lake.
DAY SEVEN: Granite Potholes, Phoebe Lakes, Lake Leland
In the morning the weather wasn’t as gloomy, but we weren’t about to take chances. We decided that the lower we went, the better, even if only a little bit. In light of that decision, we continued on to Granite Potholes, one of many groups of tarns in the area. It was a few hundred feet lower and much warmer than the Robins.
After camp was established, we lazed about until the day warmed. It was still cold to me, but Jessy spotted a cliff and couldn’t help but climb up to it and jump in. He was cooled off quick, but ready for more (why wouldn't he be?). With Josh in tow this time, they both stood on top and before I go on, let me remind you of what I said earlier about DAY SEVEN. This was the day Josh was to get hurt. His due was t-3 seconds away. He and Jessy flight off the lower Granite Pothole’s cliffy shore into the water below was fun to watch. The little brother was perfect again, but Josh landed too far back and sideways. As he comes up, he calls for Jessy who keeps a close eye on him while he limps to shore. We weren’t sure that he would be able to hike out the next day or even the day after for that matter, but hoped for the best. Obviously, it was a bad idea to jump a cliff like this so far out in the backcountry, but brothers will be brothers, and we’re a competitive bunch.
Later on Jessy and I try and scout what we could through the fog and clouds obscuring our view. Deep valleys, each with their own assortment of lakes, surround us. From the map, we decided to traverse the Northside of Granite Mountain where an obvious pass was located. This was on the opposite side of what we’d taken as kids to an unnamed lake above Kalonqua Lakes. We’d hoped that this way would be better than going around the other side. I was fairly certain it would go, but a map can lie, especially if I allow it too tell me a story I want to hear. I can squint a little too hard and see what I want too.
DAY EIGHT: Bob and Klonaqua Lakes
For Josh and I, going out Kalonqua Lakes was the primary catalyst for doing this traverse at all. We had always wondered as kids what lay yonder way. This curiosity, lasting until present, was about to be satisfied and our eighth day would live up to all expectations. It would stand out as the best day of the entire trip.
That night the moons intensity was incredible, and its reflection on the lakes nirvana. That morning still carried that air of wonder. We packed with its memory still vivid. Ahead of us more wonder to come.
As planned, we woke up and started out early. We climbed back toward the Robins and traversed cross country to the shoulder of Granite Mountain. The walk here was very pleasant, the meadows and ponds unsullied by man, and the way was as expected, very scenic. Boulder fields followed and were scrambled down before reaching the key pass above Phoebe Lakes. The crystal waters of No Name Lake were intense, and our first views of the Kalonqua’s were magical.
Josh and Jessy arrived at the pass just before I did and decided to scout ahead. I could see that our path directly over the pass was a no go, and I was worried that we were in for a return journey, which would cost us 4-5 hours extra. My anticipation flared when I hear them returning along the ridge, whereupon they see me and holler quite convincingly, “There’s no way down, anywhere man!!!” Despite their act, I was convinced that they must be wrong. Making as if to go look for myself, they give up and laugh, "There's a way, just up over this hill." When Christy showed they pulled the same ruse on her. I, of course, joined, and we held out longer this time before finaly spilling out the truth.
From the ridgeline are steep alpine slopes, and a tiny bit of easy rock. Below there, the terrain gets more complex, and there are only a few ways down. Most are steep rock cliffs or slanted granite, too slippery to walk down. We took it slow and scouted for the best route. There are basically 3 stages of cliffs and each need to be negotiated if you plan on taking this particular route. We climbed the most difficult of sections by climbing next to a spectacular waterfall, whose vestige we had scouted from atop minutes before. There were a few exposed sections here to be careful on. To lessen the risk we passed packs down so we could branch rappel to a safer spot. This led to a ledge directly beneath the falls, whose path eventually brought us further beneath the falls, to freedom. Flowers sprung up there from wet stone and clumps of grass. While the others stopped at a meadow below, I stayed and photographed.
We had a few more challenges left. I don’t know if we took the best way, but I climbed down steep granite to a ledge or two before finding easier terrain. Again, there were beautiful falls above us, and more purple Monkey Flowers below. The others eventually joined with directions from me and more boulder hoping followed soon after. This led to the shore of Upper Kalonqua Lake, whose golden yellow grass heralded us from above. To finally be there was thrilling.
There are no trails from Granite Potholes until the middle of Kalonqua Lakes and the left shore of the upper lake isn’t very pleasant. In an attempt to lessen the effort and since our feet needed to be soaked, we put on our slippers and hiked along the shore. Sometimes we were past our knees in water but not for long. Soon we were out of the water and fighting our way into the woods, working our way through forest until we reached the center of the two lakes and crossed the outlet. At this point, we traversed between the lakes over to the other side. There is a wonderful trail that winds through stunning meadows. It was so wondrous that in our delight we neglected to pay attention and passed Lower Kalonqua Lake altogether. As Bob Lake came into view we realized our slip of mind. This turned out for the best. While Bob Lake is an unimpressive name, the quit, charming nature of this place was't run of the mill at all.
On one end of the lake we struck camp, scrounged through our food and ate everything we had left on the sunny shore. After which followed a long restful nap. Once that was over, we all went swimming. A small cliff caught Jessy’s attention (of course) and he hiked around the lake to jump off of it and swim back. Later that day we went fishing at Lower Kalonqua. While we didn't catch anything, we realized that we were camping at the better place. Upon returning, we went to bed. Day eight, the best of the trip, was over.
DAY NINE: Hike out to Icicle Creek Road
Sometime in the middle of the night, animals woke us up. I was afraid it was a bear. Since we didn’t have any food laying around (none left), except ourselves, I wasn't too worried. Still, I rose from bed and shinned my light out the tent. The first thing I saw was a flying squirrel (didn’t think that they were in Washington). The next thing I noticed was a bigger animal, probably a deer or elk. It was hard to tell since all I saw was a mass moving quickly away. We weren't bothered much more that night. We were pretty certain later that we heard hoof prints. It would've been cool to see whatever it was, but it wasn't to be.
Morning arrived all the same, arms and legs attached to torso. No dinner tonight for hungry bears, only the chill morning to prod us up and awake enough to pack up fast. We had 9 miles ahead and a schedule to stick too. We had to be out by 11am to 12pm.
Portions of the trail are overgrown, much like a rose garden’s entrance, once you begin paralleling French Creek. This comes after dropping a few thousand feet to the valley bottom. Several more miles and French Creek meets the Icicle Valley and Creek where the trail becomes a certified road. Not much further ahead, John and Candace would appear a mile or so from their car and the trailhead. They told us ice cream and fruit would be waiting for us and sure enough, it was. We consumed it like animals. After 9 days we were mutating somewhat. I'd like to stay out much longer, but I have a job, so I have to balace desire with available time.
A full week , nearly 40 lakes, and memories to last a lifetime, are reminders why escape is important. How more relaxed endeavors such as fishing and swimming can add to the flavour and satisfaction. Maybe for us, it was so good that it may become an annual event, much like Christmas is. Like Jessy said, "You wouldn’t skip Christmas, would you? Well, you can’t skip an annual tradition either." Next year I think 9 days in the Olympic National Park would make for a splendid 2nd annual trip. Until then, I hope everyone who reads this gets out and has as much fun as we did.